30 Days to a Better Man Day 2: Shine Your Shoes

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 1, 2009 · 38 comments

in 30 Days to a Better Man

There’s a lot of sage wisdom to be found in the film Shawshank Redemption. But there is one detail the movie got wrong: people do notice your shoes (especially women). And while it’s true that people don’t spend an awful lot of time staring at your shoes, you’d be surprised at how often you look at your own feet. And when you look down and can practically see your reflection in your shoes, it gives you a sense of satisfaction, a boost in you confidence, and some added pep in your step. Too many men put on a nice pair of dress pants and a freshly pressed shirt, but then ruin the whole get-up with scuffed shoes. A pair of glassy, shined shoes will pull your whole appearance together.

So your task today is to shine your shoes. Get out every pair of dress shoes that you own and get them all into ship shape condition. You never know when you’re going to need to don a pair, and the last thing you want to do is be ready to run at the door to an important meeting and realize that your shoes are in no condition to meet the public. Having a closet full of shined shoes ensures that you are ready for any occasion, at the drop of a hat. Plus, shining your shoes is the kind of quiet, repetitive activity that will calm your mind and soothe your stress.

To get started on today’s task, check out our post on “How to Shine Your Shoes Like a Soldier.” You don’t need a fancy shoe shining kit to do this. Just a few cans of Kiwi shoe polish and a couple of rags can get the job done. You can find shoe polish at most drug and grocery stores for a couple of bucks a can.

After you’re all set up, read these additional shoe shining tips we gleaned from that post’s numerous comments:

1. Rubbing alcohol is a good polish stripper, which should be done every so often, particularly if the boots haven’t been shined in a long time (dirt gets embedded into the polish). (From Eric B.)

2. Those little pantyhose-like foot covers they have at shoe stores? Grab a handful of those and stretch one taut and buff with a sawing motion as fast as you can for a few minutes. The friction and pressure combine to make a little heat that really brings the shine out. I never used anything more than an old pair of socks cut up into rags, a can of kiwi, and some old pantyhose, and I rarely find shinier shoes. (From Charlie)

3. Shine your boots to the usual black glass look, and then put a coat of BLUE Lincoln wax on and buff. The Blue wax would make your boots GLOW. (From Ron Waters)

4. I used cotton wool balls for ages until I discovered make-up removal pads (the little flat round ones). You can wrap them around your finger for much better control, they stand less chance of scratching the polish with a fingernail, and they don’t leave little bits of cotton behind if you’re a little careless. (From Tom)

After you’ve completed the task, check in with the 30 DBM Community and share how many shoes/boots you shined and any tips you might have on how to get a mirror shine.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 julia June 2, 2009 at 12:12 am

Shine shine shine

2 Alex Shalman June 2, 2009 at 4:04 am

So this tip is not as deep as finding our values, but still somewhat important. I just use those spongie things that you open up, rub your shoe with, and you’re good to go. But, maybe that’s the problem, and I should be shining with polish =)

3 Craig June 2, 2009 at 7:13 am

I worked as a hotel bellman on and off for over nine years and the one service I was always most proud of was my shoe shine. It’s pretty good for a guy who never served in the military. Who knew all those years of watching my Dad shine his boots on Sunday nights would pay off down the line?

4 ace June 2, 2009 at 7:52 am

Agreed, those cotton pads are magic. Sharing one of my own secrets – during the final buff, alternate dry pads with wet ones soaked in COLD water. After enough coats you can literally get your shoes like mirrors – I used to be able to count my teeth in my basic training boots.

5 Stephen M. June 2, 2009 at 8:37 am

Out on a business trip and left your shine kit at home? Some hand lotion and a quick buff with a towel or a sock will have give you a quick polish, not a shine though. Works in a pinch!

6 Spud June 2, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Great tip for shine-capable shoes. I have a question: what about other shoes, like sneakers or canvas shoes? What is the appropriate care for those? You can’t very well redeem that blaringly-white-and-fresh-out-of-the-box look with those (though, I’m not sure you would want to…-ha-).

7 Daniel Jaffe June 2, 2009 at 2:25 pm

i certainly don’t want to stop anyone from shining their shoes if that’s their thing—and I DO generally appreciate most of what I see on AoM—but this post is just stupid and, on Day 2, it certainly brings down the value quotient of your 30-day program.

Go ahead and be a metrosexual (or homosexual for that matter) and shine your shoes and go shopping and look your best for career and dating success. But don’t lay it on this unreconstructed slob and, even more important, don’t act like having a good shine on your shoes—or anything else fashion-related—has ANYTHING whatsoever with being a man.

In fact, if we’re dealing in images of manliness, MY image of a real man is a guy who is blissfully unconcerned with his appearance, his thoughts turned toward deeper things: philosophy, politics, alcohol, and the greatness of Ichiro Suzuki. That describes my dad (OK, not the Ichiro part) and pretty much my sons too, even though one of them has to dress sharply for his work (and does it well).

Each one his own, of course, but I’m having a hard time seeing what this has to do with manliness and I think you do your readers a disservice focusing even one post on this.

I wanted to post a link to the great Astaire singing and dancing to Shine on Your Shoes—but I couldn’t find it.

8 Brett June 2, 2009 at 6:27 pm


I’m not sure about canvas shoes or shoes that are like fashionable sneakers, but when my athletic sneakers get dingy (and especially when they get smelly) here’s what I do:

-Sprinkle each shoe, inside and out with baking soda, and then stick each one in a freezer ziploc bag. I then put the sneakers in the freezer and leave them there overnight. This kills the bacteria that causes odor.

-The next day I just stick them in the washing machine along with my clothes. I’ve never had any problem with doing so and it gets them pretty clean. When they’re done, don’t stick them in the dryer. Just stuff them with crinkled up newspaper and let them dry.

This will give them a new lease on life.

9 Mike S. June 2, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Absolutely agree that this is a worthy post for day two. Well shined shoes reflect (no pun intended) multiple worthwhile traits…attention to detail, self esteem, and an investment in one’s personal appearance. Having done so many times even before reading this article, I can also attest that a boot and shoe shining session is relaxing and does bring a sense of having all one’s stuff in one sock and being ready for whatever’s next. As a retired AF officer I can say that discipline and miltary bearing took a distinct turn for the worse after the introduction of corfam and patent leather….absolutely cheating. Some professions can afford to be blissfuly unconcerned about appearance but all the services kind of like people who deal with lethal force and operate massively destructive systems to be obsessively detailed about all matters great and small.

10 Michael H. June 2, 2009 at 7:04 pm

This was a great day 2. I was expecting something deep like yesterday’s values definition/clarification. So shining my shoes was a bit of a surprise, but something that I don’t think I’ve paid much attention to since I was a boy. The shoes were in pretty dire need of the “attention to detail” and “investment in… personal appearance” that Mike S. wrote of.

11 Sommelier June 3, 2009 at 4:51 pm

A young lady I know recently lost her position with a financial house and found a job with an upscale retailer on Madison Avenue. As part of her training she was taught how to know who might actually buy the expensive items her shop sold and who was not “in the league”, she was told to look at two things: the condition of a man’s shoes and his wristwatch.

12 Finnian June 8, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I’ve been looking at my shoes lately and thinking that they need a shine… I guess I had better get on it.

“Clothes really do make the man. Naked people have almost no influence in society.”

—Mark Twain

13 Enhor June 9, 2009 at 3:37 pm

I wear sneakers too, always white ones (fits with everything, casual but just the right amount). What you can do is buy a shoe whitener. It’s a sort a white pain that’ll make you shoes look like new. If your sneakers are made of leather, you can use wax like you would for for any other shoes. Even if it wont make them better looking, it’ll make the leather more resistant. Also, don’t forget to wash the laces, especially if they are white.

Anyway, that’s what I did for this Day 2. Put some uncolored wax on my Adidas Superstars, whitened them, tried a cool new laces pattern. I love to care of my shoes and that’s one of the few thing my father taught me and I thank him for that.

Last thing, don’t hesitate to spit on your shoes, and rub them with an old piece of clothing. It may seem gross but it’ll make them shine like a brand new car.

PS : excuse my poor English ;)

14 Julian June 9, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Great post. My black dress shoes have been neglected for years now since I mostly wear sneakers and Tims.

A question – How do I bring out the beauty in my class suede timberlands? I consider them my semi-formal shoes because with a decent pant leg covering the top they look like regular suede brown shoes.


15 Adam Blevins June 22, 2009 at 8:31 am

I keep a shine kit in my desk drawer and try to hit my shoes occasionally… old habit (and shine kit) from the military.

This was a welcome surprise for day 2.

I was just sitting here on my lunch break, shining, and had a client walk up behind me at my desk.

Think I should be embarrassed?

16 Bionicjoe September 29, 2009 at 2:06 am

Day 2 inspired me to finally go buy a pair of decent boots that can be worn to the office. I had been wearing sneakers everywhere and it was getting old.

Brought them home and ‘shined’ with a healthy dose of Mink Oil. It’s not really a polish, but it is a ritual my dad used on his boots and work shoes.

My new boots are already darker, more pliable, and have a decent ‘well-worn’ look.

17 J. Lucas Simpson October 18, 2009 at 10:56 am

@ Daniel Jaffe
I respect your opinion but disagree with you on the validity of this post, as well as your actions of labeling anyone who does shine there shoes/boots as a metrosexual/homosexual. I’ll do my best to not insult you and if you eventually read this and are insulted then it is your burden to bare. If i were you i certainly wouldn’t be labeling much less insulting my peers for wanting to improve themselves based on a personal opinion.

In your shoes i would feel ashamed for making such a comment and then hang my head and take solace in the fact that i am unable to see my own reflection.

J.Lucas Simpson.

18 Robz December 1, 2009 at 11:54 pm

I use a heatgun (usually used for paint) and ice cold water to bring out the best shine. I use lincoln wax. When I’ve finished, I usually hit it with Johnson’s Paste Wax (only a little rubbed in) to bake in the wax completely.

Yes – shoe shining is relaxing. Pity I don’t get to do it much anymore.

19 Trent December 3, 2009 at 2:58 am

Just got done shining my Grandpas Johnsons and Muprhy’s that he left me after he died. I found it very relaxing, I didn’t get the best shine that I could (didn’t have the chance to get a brush), but I still enjoyed this challenge very much.

20 1916home.net December 30, 2009 at 1:09 am

@ Daniel Jaffe

I respectfully disagree with your assertion. In Europe, you do not exit your residence without having clean, shined shoes. Men of quality have shined shoes. Manly men shine their shoes and look presentable. Its a sign of respecting others. When you show up looking like a hobo to work or to church or on a date, you will get your just respect due.

My wife is European and I was a typical American hobo. Now, I dress nice and command respect. Enjoy your over abundance of alcohol and pointless political yapping. Manly men talk about ideas, not politics.

21 steve January 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Does the quality of the leather affect the shine?

I just spent the last 5 hours shining a cheap old pair of black shoes. I figured they would be safe for learning to shine on, but they took forever. I’ve even got a blister on my finger! They still don’t look very good all over but I can see my reflection in the toe!

On the other hand, I thought I’d try it on an expensive pair of black leather boots of my girlfriend’s that’s been in serious need of attention. In spite of having significantly more leather, they looked much nicer in a fraction of the time my shoes did.

22 Jonas M February 5, 2010 at 3:35 pm

also @ Daniel Jaffe

I agree that shining shoes is pointless. And would add that I’m not convinced that manly and old-fashioned are synonymous.

However, I think doing something meditative and pointless is perfect for Day 2. Proving one’s commitment to a 30 day plan, even if all the exercises are not immediately and obviously rewarding or ‘deep’, seems an appropriate and manly second day endeavor.

23 Angelica February 25, 2010 at 3:10 am

I recently accepted employment at a law enforcement agency where appearance is essential. I have never shined boots (or shoes) a day in my life before. I stumbled upon a trick that seems to work well when shining my boots up. Bacon grease! (No kidding….I know it’s funny with the law enforcement and all but bear with me). I was just using Kiwi before and though my boots looked clean, they did not shine the way I had hoped. I take pride in the neatness of my appearance. The lack of luster really started bothering me. I was cooking bacon after my shift one morning and some grease popped onto my boot. I noticed after I had wiped it off that it was shinier where the grease had landed. So now I begin with cleaning my boots, then I rub bacon grease onto them and shine them. I then use the Kiwi as directed and shine again. I finalize my shine with another layer of bacon grease, buffed out to a high shine. Who knew?

24 MikeV March 4, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I use Kiwi Parade Gloss on my dress boots and shoes. Some water, a nylon sock, and polish with circular motions and I can part my hair with the finish.
For waterproofing my Frye boots I use mink oil.
And for the naysayers putting down those who shine there footwear…
“You can tell the worth of a man by the shine on his shoes.” I forgot who originally wrote this.

25 Ron Hamilton March 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm

I found AoM early, left ,and have returned…What a fine place for us!
My Dad left us early on (I was 13 or 14 and he had a different agenda). He left me a few pointers, and I remember them at surprising times. He did teach me how to shine my shoes in a military style.
Several of the guys say this is a useless activity; I must disagree. I told my wife about this 30 day program and that day 2 would simply be shining our shoes. I guessed at why.
I know so many people that simply wear things out. They buy, buy buy….
When I was younger, things had to last a little longer.
This philosophy,out of necessity,may return!
Taking CARE of things; helping them look their best ,
even when we can’t afford new,
demonstrates our PRIDE.
It says, “I’m a good steward. I can take good care of what I have.
I can make it last if I must.”
Who knows what tomorrow may bring?? Shine your shoes. Wax your car.
Clean your place up; put on some fresh paint…Stand up straight!
Who knows where it will end?
Shining your shoes now and then is a VERY manly practice.

26 tibor April 16, 2010 at 2:31 am

Some types of leather don’t take to polish well. I have several pairs of Merrell Worldwalkers, which are very comfortable for walking, and you can even get away with wearing them in a semi formal situation, such as with a blazer and khakis. Yet, they are very difficult to shine. I remember in the military, in boot camp, they had us strip the original polish off with shaving cream, right down to the tan leather. We’d then build up a black Kiwi shine using the spit shine method. I’s painstakingly slow, but eventually the shoes looked like glass. I’ll have to try the rubbing alcohol as well as cotton pads as described above.

27 Robert Christiansen April 19, 2010 at 12:14 am

This was something that I have totally forgotten about, my dad was in the air force and we have a large family of 6 and we lived all over the U.S. and in Italy as kids. The art of shining my shoes and or taking care of my shoes is a real trip down memory lane for me. It was a great experience for me to turn on the radio and sit on a stool and do something all the men in my family used to do together , with my dad overseeing the proccess.

28 Lloyd May 15, 2010 at 1:06 pm

When I was in the military, I found some liquid Kiwi wax in a tube with a sponge applicator. This was NOT those fake, paint-like neo-waxes that would flake off, but actual liquid wax. It made my jump boots glow. Got lots of compliments and my annual review actually got a little bump because my boots got noticed. The tube was small enough to keep in a leg pocket of my BDUs. Whenever I had a couple spare minutes, I’d pull it out and put on another coat.

29 James May 22, 2010 at 6:32 am

Have to agree this is a great post. Although not in the military my self ( i was in cadets) my family has a tradition going back to WW2. I think you cannot underestimate the worth of well shined shoes. It says a lot about a man and i can still remember my first cadet course where i just sat down and spent 2-3 hours polishing. Shone like glass. It taught me personally the value of handwork and the rewards that go with it.

30 John June 3, 2010 at 4:00 pm

I have never shined my shoes and it certainly has not effected my manhood. I have a great wife, am successful econmically in a creative position, and have told everyone who has ever asked me to wear a tie to get bent. I consider my badass, scruffy shoes a mark of my manhood.

31 Delilah Decimal July 14, 2010 at 3:18 pm

My father and grandfather wore cowboy boots when I was a kid. I remember seeing the cans of polish and the brushes. My grandfather was a gentleman of the highest caliber, and the shine he kept on his boots was immaculate. I think this is a wonderful thing for men of my generation to learn as it does display their pride and thoughtfulness, both in their appearance and respect for their belongings. Gentlemen, I’m 28, I’d be impressed by a pair of shined shoes. A man who cares enough to put a good shine on his shoes has the ability to take care of a woman.

32 Marc March 18, 2013 at 7:24 am

Hi Guys

Well i know i am a little late for the 30 day challenge but i am going to do it non the less, as a kid i used to love shining my school shoes and in the army to but now i am a scuba instructor in South Africa and well lets say we don’t wear shes that require shining, so will washing all my flip, flops, or cleaning my fins or even my levis do?

Thanks for the post love reading AoM

33 Tuttle March 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Thanks for the post, the shine of your shoes definitely reflects your maturity. I know this for a fact, because of the difference in the maturity of me and my dorm-mate, whose shoes glow.

34 William Langdon April 30, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I am doing this challenge, keeping a really open mind, because I really want to try and get something out of it.

I have shined my shoes before back home, but I haven’t done it in a while and I never took the time to really appreciate the labor. The smell of the polish reminded me of when I was a child sitting in my dads walk in with him as he taught me how to shoe shine.

It feels like forever ago and doing it again now made me miss my father and got me wishing I could learn from him all over again.

I have finished shining my shoes, and though it took some time, I found peace in the repetitive work, and I have a feeling of accomplishment, however small, at looking down and seeing the clean, fresh, shiny shoes on my feet.

I am a new user but I am really starting to love AoM.

35 Ernest Jaramillo August 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm

So I read day two today before work (7a.m.) and all day thought about it. I dont have any shoes to shine………I got home to journal this and realized maybe part of being a man is to start dressing like one! Its the small things is what im getting from this lesson. Walk like one talk like one…..going to go get them shoes!:)

36 Hesham September 10, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Just finished polishing 6 pairs for the first time in my life.. I feel good.. I’m not going to give out for polish ever again.. no one shines my shoes better than me? No, but only when I do it they will feel good to put on..

37 Bijan Nath April 10, 2014 at 10:39 pm

I have polished my shoes and tried to make it shine today

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